As members of Greater Des Moines’ business community, we all remember our first work experiences. We remember the important lessons we learned on that first job: responsibility, reliability, initiative and service.
While those first jobs might have been nothing like the careers we eventually pursued, the lessons we learned as teenagers stepping into the working world left lasting impressions that continue to impact us as professionals today. They also bring us the perspective and focus of hindsight, allowing us to understand the value of that first job to today’s youths, tomorrow’s workforce. 

Thanks to extensive research conducted on youth employment, we now know a lot about its many benefits. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult for young people to get that experience, and as a result, youth employment has decreased substantially in recent years. Last summer, the national teen employment rate averaged 32.25 percent. In contrast, more than 52 percent of teens were employed during the summer of 1999. The numbers are even worse for teens of color and those from low-income homes.

To help address this issue, the Greater Des Moines Partnership is collaborating with Des Moines Area Community College on the Youth Employment Program. YEP seeks to make a difference for local youths by providing them with work-readiness training and workplace experience. As part of the program, the youths receive two weeks of work-readiness training covering a variety of skills, including communications, professionalism and financial literacy. Participants also have the opportunity to earn a national career readiness certificate to demonstrate the skills they have acquired. After the youths complete their training, they are matched with an employer for an eight-week work placement based on their skills and interests.  

We applaud those local businesses, such as Bridgestone Firestone and Wells Fargo & Co., that have already participated in YEP with great success. By their own accounts, these employers gained experience working with young people while establishing a successful pipeline for attracting future employees. They also benefited from being part of local efforts to improve the community, all while receiving support from YEP throughout the program. It is truly a win-win workforce strategy. 

YEP needs more Greater Des Moines employers to offer these work experience opportunities. Providing youths a 20-hour-per-week work experience costs approximately $2,000 per participant, while a 30-hour-per-week work experience costs approximately $2600. Of course, not all businesses or organizations can provide a work experience for a young person due to the nature of their business or the service they provide. However, sponsorships are available that provide an eager and willing teen the opportunity to work at a nonprofit or government agency.  

Additional information may be found by visiting: or emailing with questions. We encourage business owners to consider how they can help put Greater Des Moines’ youths to work this summer.  

Today’s teenage employee represents the next generation of Greater Des Moines’ workforce. Our region’s economic future relies heavily on how well we prepare them for that future. 

-Jay Byers is the CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership and Rob Denson is the president of Des Moines Area Community College.